Aspen Club redevelopment receives preliminary approval |

Aspen Club redevelopment receives preliminary approval

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Preliminary plans to redevelop the Aspen Club & Spa into a destination holistic health facility with 20 timeshare condos was approved by elected leaders Monday.The Aspen City Council voted 4-1 to conceptually approve the development plan presented by one of the clubs owners, Michael Fox. But before it receives final approval, a host of concerns voiced by council members will have to be addressed, including an assurance that the facility will permanently remain a health club.Council members asked Fox several questions regarding the projects financial model and the need for timeshares.Fox responded that the sale of timeshares will pay for between $12 million and $16 million in club improvements, as well as 12 affordable housing units and energy-efficient building of the development. The council focused on the projects finances after Fox indicated that if he cannot redevelop the aging property, he may be forced to sell it off in separate real estate pieces that would be developed into free-market homes. That door has been opened, and that argument has been made, said City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss. That justification is being argued here. Thats a thorny issue, and I dont know how we are going to stay away from it.Fox said its getting more difficult to do business in Aspen as real estate prices continue to escalate. He added that operating a sustainable health club requires reinvestment. However, council members are viewing the proposal as more of a real estate development than a transformation of the club into a healthy living retreat center.Neighborhood impacts also are a concern, and a detailed traffic impact study will be required for approval.The vision for the new facility, which would be called Aspen Club Living, is for families to come for an extended health retreat. When the timeshare units arent being used by owners they will be available for groups, families and single travelers who participate in special one- and two-week healthy lifestyle programs.Councilman Steve Skadron said he wants Fox to guarantee that the new facility is accessible to the public, even though Fox is proposing to allow several groups, including nonprofits and kids organizations, to use the facility at no cost.But it appears the biggest hurdle Fox will have to overcome is agreeing to legally bind himself to operating the facility for years to come, as well as proving there is enough community benefit to get approval.Dozens of people attended Monday nights meeting to speak in support of the project, including professional athletes, members, employees and physicians who use the club. Two neighbors of the Aspen Club spoke in opposition during the four-hour review.City Councilman Jack Johnson, the lone dissenter on approving the conceptual plan, said it failed to meet the needed criteria. He also said he doesnt trust Foxs word that it will remain a health club facility.There is no guarantee that the use will remain or the investment will happen, Johnson said. No one is questioning the value of the Aspen Club, its employees or Michaels effort; that is not what this is about.Mayor Mick Ireland said Foxs representation that the club is a locally owned business isnt completely accurate because 65 percent of the company is owned by outside investors. Fox owns 35 percent of the company. In addition, Ireland said he thinks the free market doesnt help address the publics needs.The proposal is similar to the one that Fox submitted and subsequently withdrew in 2006 because of a lack of support from the City Council and the clubs neighbors.The latest proposal includes expanding the club to 72,409 square feet, as well as 20 timeshare units, 12 affordable housing units available for rent for club employees and 133 parking spaces, which is a net increase of 42 spaces. An underground parking lot would be accessible from Ute

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